The Torah describes in wondrous terms the idyllic life that awaits those who ‘follow His decrees, observes the commandments and perform them’. Abundant rain, magnificent yield of crops, peace from our enemies and the return of the Sanctuary are promised to those who preserve the covenant with G-d.
After this uplifting portrayal of life in G-d’s presence the Torah adds one more promise.
ולא תגעל נפשי אתכם (ויקרא כו יא), and My Spirit will not reject you.
Reject us?! Haven’t we loyally followed in His ways, earning a relationship of closeness, being embraced by His benevolence, and now G-d needs to assure us that ‘by the way I won’t reject you’?
Imagine telling your beloved how much you cherish and love her and then add that you are not repulsed by her. How are we to understand this seemingly inappropriate sentiment?
The world we live in, we are taught in Pirkei Avos, is merely an ‘antechamber to the banquet hall’, the metaphor used to describe the world to come and the vast spiritual pleasures that await us there. Prepare yourself in the antechamber, so that you may enter the banquet hall. (אבות ד טז)
Do we really need an allegory to comprehend the rather basic notion of this world being a place where man is challenged so that one may earn and reap the reward for one’s allegiance to G-d’s will in the world to come?
The Chosid Yaavetz teaches that the Mishna by using this imagery is revealing to us that in a way one who adequately prepares oneself in this temporal realm has in a sense already entered somewhat into the banquet hall. The aura, the aroma, the sounds, the music, the ambiance of the banquet hall that wafts into the entrance hall permeates the atmosphere of the antechamber with its essence as well.
The great Mashgiach, Rav Shlomo Wolbe, in analyzing the famous words of the Mesillas Yeshorim, makes a marvelous discovery.
Rav Chaim Luzzatto writes:
שהאדם לא נברא אלא להתענג על ה' ולהנות מזיו שכינתו, that man was created solely to delight in G-d and to derive pleasure in the radiance of the Divine Presence, שזהו התענוג האמיתי והעידון הגדול מכל העידונים שיכולים להמצא, for this is the true delight and the greatest pleasure that can possibly exist.
ומקום העידון הזה באמת הוא העולם הבא כי הוא הנברא בהכנה המצטרכת לדבר הזה, the place of this pleasure is, in truth, in the World to Come, for it was created expressly for this purpose.
The Mashgiach astutely observes that although the Mesillas Yeshorim discusses both ‘delighting’ in G-d and deriving ‘pleasure’ from the Divine Presence, however when describing the world to come as the place expressly created for this purpose, it is only in reference to gaining ‘pleasure’ that seems only possible there in contrast to ‘delighting’ in G-d which is conceivable even upon this earth with its limitations. (עלי שור ב )
This revolutionary idea, as he calls it, must change our whole attitude. Our goal in this world is not merely to trudge through difficulty with the patient hope of one day attaining true pleasure, we are entitled to delight in His Divine presence and experience it every moment here on earth.
Wherein lays the secret to obtaining this delight? What method must one employ to achieve that sensation?
So often despite our greatest efforts to fulfill every nuance and detail of the halacha; studying the meaning behind the mitzva; investing effort and money in obtaining the opportunity, nevertheless when it comes to the moment of truth as we perform the mitzva we don’t sense any excitement or thrill.
There is a natural resistance within every human creation of flesh and blood to comfortably house within our material being the forces of the ‘spirit’. They stem after all from two divergent worlds.
Yet one can quell that instinct by living with a consciousness of G-d’s presence in everything we do and in every minute we exist. Without exerting effort to infuse that awareness, our habitual reaction will be to repel the intrusion of the spirit. When we come to appreciate that every facet of our physical being is capable of absorbing and being inspired by the spirit, the layers of physicality will no longer prevent us from sensing His Presence in all we do.
One of the great baalei avodah, masters of the spirit, pointed out that this idea is embedded in the verse that summons us ושמחתם לפני ה' (ויקרא שם כג מ), and you shall rejoice before G-d. Only when we succeed in living ‘before G-d’ will we be able to attain ‘joy’. (ספר לפניו נעבוד ועד קמ)
The journey towards achieving the vast blessings enumerated in our portion begins with the directive אם בחקתי תלכו (שם כו ג), If you walk in my laws.
The Midrash contemplating the emphasis of specifically ‘walking’ in His laws directs us to a verse in Tehillim.
חשבתי דרכי ואשיבה רגלי אל עדותך (קיט נט), I considered my ways, and returned my feet to Your testimonies.
King David declared before G-d, “Each and every day, I would calculate where I should go and say, ‘I will go to such-and-such place and to such-and-such residence,’ but my feet would bring me to synagogues and study halls.”
How did King David train his ‘feet’ to defy his instinct to pursue other venues of interest and bring him rather to the sanctuaries of devotion?
The Great Rebbe Aharon of Karlin interprets this verse in most novel way.
The word חשבתי, can stem from the root חשב, meaning to calculate, but it can alternatively relate to the same root which is used in the word חשיבות, meaning to give value and prominence. The word רגל, can literally refer to one’s feet, but it is also used in the context of רגילות, habitual.
When King David felt his reflexes taking him in mundane directions, חשבתי; he aroused himself to the reality of how valuable every moment and experience in life is in light of our being to connect with G-d at every turn. With that heightened and enthused awareness, ואשיבה רגלי; he was able to break away from the habitual instinct that easily draws one to material pleasure, and sought out the sanctuary of G-d’s Presence. (בית אהרן חנוכה)
The Holy Or HaChaim offers forty two expositions on this expression used here of ‘walking’ in His laws. In his fourth elucidation he asserts that this emphasizes the notion that wherever one finds themselves in the ‘walk of life’ the Torah must govern each of our actions, for within each of these experiences lays an opportunity to discover G-d’s Presence.
Perhaps the Torah is not simply assuring us that G-d simply will not repel us but is rather asserting that when one succeeds in bringing the sense of משכני בתוככם, My Sanctuary among you, literally within ‘us’, then לא תגעל נפשי אותכם, we will no longer habitually rebuff His spirit. There will be no resistance between our physical being and soul for the two will merge seamlessly expressing His will joyously in all we do.
The Baal HaTurim points out that the first three letters in the verse אם בחקתי תלכו, if you walk in My laws, spell out the word אָבֹת, an allusion to our illustrious forefathers. The Talmud tells us that Avraham, Yitzchock and Yaakov ‘tasted of the world to come in this world’. (ב"ב טז:)
They lived with a cognizance of G-d’s Presence in every fiber of their existence. They lived in the ‘antechamber’, thus experiencing a ‘delight’ in G-d in every moment and challenge.
The word אבת is rooted in the word אבה, to crave or submit. If we crave His Presence we will naturally submit to His will and merit to sense excitement in every morsel of life.